Sunday, May 15, 2016

Happy book birthday to SAM AND JUMP by Jennifer K. Mann!

Jennifer Mann has a brand-new picture book, SAM AND JUMP!

Candlewick Press
Pub date: May 10, 2016

SAM AND JUMP is an adorable book that tenderly captures the very big emotions that go along with having (and losing!) a beloved stuffy and making a new friend. Don't you love the cover?

Here's what Kirkus Reviews had to say about SAM AND JUMP:
When a small boy forgets his precious stuffed rabbit at the beach, he fears the worst.

"Best friends" who "do everything together," Sam, a white boy, and his stuffed rabbit, Jump, go to the beach, where they meet a black boy named Thomas. They play together all day. When he gets home, Sam realizes he's left Jump at the beach. His mother promises they will return to the beach in the morning, but Sam can't eat dinner or enjoy his bedtime story and spends the night imagining terrible things happening to Jump. In the morning, Sam can't find Jump anywhere at the beach and "nothing was fun" without him. Then Thomas returns carrying the missing Jump, and all's well. Sweet, endearingly simple illustrations created with pencil, watercolor, and "digital magic" judiciously use white space to focus attention on inseparable Sam and Jump sharing tea, soaping up in the tub, and sitting side-by-side on a tree branch and in an overstuffed chair. Following Jump's abandonment, murky, blue-gray backgrounds emphasize Sam's sadness, isolation, and fear, while Sam's solitary figure on the beach echoes his loneliness and loss, reprieved later in the silent hug of his reunion with Jump.

Kids with their own favorite toys will identify with this gentle, tender tale of Sam and Jump's special bond.

Jen had a launch party at Secret Garden Books in Ballard, Washington, on May 10, the day SAM AND JUMP hit bookshelves. Sand dollar cookies, cupcakes, and beachballs made things extra festive while guests celebrated the big day with Jen.

This is a pic of a few SCBWI-ers at the event: (left to right) Jennifer Longo, Jennifer Mann, Dana Arnim, and me.

Today was another launch party, this one at Eagle Harbor Book Company in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Another launch party means more fun book talk, treats, and guests!

left to right: Faith Pray, Jennifer Mann, Margaret Nevinski, and me

Something that makes that last photo extra special to me is it holds all of my critique partners and me in one shot! I'm in one critique group with Jen and Margaret Nevinski, and Faith Pray and I have our own two-person critique group. When a critique partner has a book come out, something you witnessed in its first stages of life--early words and, if a picture book, early sketches--it's so huge and exciting! Hurray!

Happy birthday, SAM AND JUMP! Jennifer, congratulations on your new and beautiful book!

Now it's your turn! Are there any new books you're excited about? Tell me, tell me, tell me!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Interview: Author Jennifer Longo

Today I get to share an interview with the very talented YA author Jennifer Longo

(photo credit: Will Christiansen)

Bio from the book jacket: Jennifer Longo was a ballerina from ages eight to eighteen, until she eventually (reluctantly) admitted her talent for writing exceeded her talent for dance. The author of SIX FEET OVER IT, she holds an MFA in Writing for Theater from Humboldt State University, where her obsessive love of Antarctica produced her thesis play about Antarctica's Age of Exploration. Jennifer lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter and writes about writing at

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I met Jen at an SCBWI Western Washington conference two or three years ago, and we became friends. She's so energetic, funny, and doggone nice, you can't help but like her! As soon as I read the premise of her novel, UP TO THIS POINTE, I wanted to read the book. I expected to enjoy it, so I pre-ordered it before it was published. Then I read it. Oh my gosh, people, I was blown away!

UP TO THIS POINTE by Jennifer Longo
Random House Books for Young Readers
Pub date: January 19, 2016

UP TO THIS POINTE is seriously squee-worthy. I absolutely love it. Love, love, love. It's one of those special books you can't put down because it's great any way you slice it. Jen has a killer voice, her characters are three-dimensional and lovable, her setting is beautiful and totally unique (Hello? Half the book takes place in Antarctica!), and her story is compelling, full of heart, and literally laugh-out-loud funny. It's sooo good. 

The blurb:
Harper Scott is a dancer. She and her best friend, Kate, have one goal: becoming professional ballerinas. But while Kate is a naturally gifted dancer, Harper has had to fight for every step. And now it's make-it-or-break-it time: if their auditions go wrong, their dreams are over. Harper won't let anything--or anyone--get in her way, not even the boy she and Kate are both drawn to.

Harper may not be a natural, but she is a Scott. She's related to Robert Falcon Scott, the daring explorer who died racing to the South Pole. So when Harper's life takes an unexpected turn, she finagles (read: lies) her way to the icy dark of McMurdo Station . . . in Antarctica.

Extreme, but also somehow fitting--apparently, she has always been in the dark, dancing on ice this whole time. And no one warned her. Not her family, not her best friend, not even the boy who has somehow found a way into her heart.

I was so happy to be able to attend Jen's Eagle Harbor Book Company reading.

Jennifer Longo reading from her novel

and then being harassed by an argyle sweater-wearing fan. ;)

Shall we look at some reviews? Yes, we shall!

"A stunning love letter to ballet and San Francisco, Jennifer Longo's (SIX FEET OVER IT) quirky sophomore novel, UP TO THIS POINTE, is the perfect meld of adorable and heart-wrenching."
-Shelf Awareness starred review

"The book . . . savvy and detailed about the Antarctic and life on the ice, with McMurdo's combination of industrial site and summer camp vividly conveyed . . . Fans of McCaughrean's THE WHITE DARKNESS will definitely want a look; even determinedly frost-free readers, though, will sympathize with Harper's upheaval at failing to become one of the chosen few."
-Bulletin starred review

"Incisively written. Longo makes it easy to commiserate with Harper as she tries to move past disappointment and envision a new path forward."
-Publishers Weekly

"A moving love letter to dance, dreams, and San Francisco, and a look at how embracing personal passion leads to fulfillment (even if it wasn't part of the plan)."
-Kirkus Reviews

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Now the Q&A! Yee-haw! 

DS: After becoming a playwright, how difficult or easy was it to switch to novel writing?

JL: I have always, always written, all my life. But I've always been embarrassed about it. Real writers, of the books and plays I spent my life reading, were the people who should write, not me. I majored in acting in college as it was still storytelling, but came naturally to me and didn't make me feel like a fraud. I love acting and I earned an MA, all while jealously watching the Playwriting majors rehearse their scripts. I acted for them and wanted badly to re-write a lot of them (because I'm kind of a jerk that way). At last, I got the nerve to give a writing sample to my advisor and asked her if I could switch majors. She let me, and I graduated with an MFA in Playwriting.

Once out of school I wrote plays and had a few produced in small theatres and universities, and I interned at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. But I still secretly wondered if I could stretch and expand the plays I'd written into novel form. My daughter turned three and started pre-school, so I had a few spare hours per week, and that's when I got over my self-doubt and re-wrote my first play as my first novel. I drafted it during NaNoWriMo.

There's a reason there aren't a ton of successful playwrights turned novelists, or vice versa--the two forms are so disparate in structure, in their mechanics. A novelist has a huge toolbox to work with, the playwright's tools are more refined. Read a play script, you'll see nothing but dialogue. Directors hate stage directions--the story must happen with spoken words, and sometimes music, and what the actors are doing right in front of the audience, in real time. I stumbled my way through my novel, relying on way too much dialogue, theatrical pacing, lack of plot, foregoing the use of exposition and internal monologue--it was a hot mess of a book. But an agent saw the story in there somehow, and she guided me through about seven hundred revisions. Then when we sold to Random House, my amazing editor further guided what was essentially a really long play into more of a dramatic novel. The one saving grace I had? Voice. A unique voice that was evident from the first page. That got me out of the slush pile, even with the play-pretending-to-be-a-book-ness of it. My second novel was a bit easier to navigate, but even now, as we revise my forthcoming book, my agent said to me last week, "You have to divide the story into chapters! Not acts!" Clearly I still have a lot to learn. Writing novels makes me want to write more plays. Good grief.

DS: The story and characters in UP TO THIS POINTE are so full and rich, this project must have required piles of research. The author's note in the book says you took ballet from ages eight to eighteen, which explains the ballet knowledge, but you also have details about various sciences, Antarctica, and oodles of other things that make the story feel absolutely believable and real. How long did it take you to do your research and write the book?

JL: Well, thank you! UP TO THIS POINTE began, as my first book SIX FEET OVER IT did, as a play. In 1998 I was researching a play about photography and on the Kodak website, there was this huge collection of photographs by Antarctic photographer Frank Hurley. I was instantly obsessed with the Age of Exploration of Antarctica, with the explorers and their attempts to reach the South Pole. I read every book I could get my hands on about all of them. I applied to the NSF to go to The Ice but was turned down twice, which broke my heart! So there were years of Antarctica research for the play, then a friend of mine got all nuts for Antarctica and he wintered over at McMurdo Station twice--I got a wealth of details from him. And now, researching for the writing of the book the past few years, there are so many new ways to connect with people and places--there are a ton of really beautiful documentaries about life on The Ice, and blogs and twitter feeds of current residents, so all of that helped.

Sadly, so much research and really fascinating facts must be abandoned in the final draft as this is, in the end, a work of fiction, and the narrative must move forward. Too many facts and geographical and scientific descriptions can really bog a story down, but all the research is never wasted--it goes toward building the world, so it's incredibly important--even if it's distilled to a few tent pole facts and just the cold, isolated feeling remains. It all matters. In the book I've got an appendix with a few of my favorite research resources, which I hope people look into if their curiosity about ballet and The Ice is piqued.

DS: Both San Francisco and Antarctica, through Harper's eyes, are so alive, fleshed out, and beautiful. Do you love San Francisco as much as Harper does? Do you still hope to visit Antarctica?

JL: I am determined to go to Antarctica one day! In the meantime, I watch documentaries about life on The Ice, and I dream.

San Francisco was my home since I grew up and got the hell out of the town I was raised in--it is a phoenix of a city, it is spectacularly beautiful, and all the best things in my life happened in the twenty years while I lived there; I married my husband, graduated from college, had my first real teaching jobs, met and adopted my daughter, had my first book published--those things are all intrinsically bound to the ocean beaches and neighborhoods of that city, and nothing can ever take its place in my heart. A few reviewers have called UP TO THIS POINTE a love letter to San Francisco, and it absolutely is.

DS: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

JL: I do! It's this: Write. Don't worry about publishing, or getting published, or what other people are doing, or writing what you think is on trend right now, write what you are compelled to write. Don't talk about it a whole bunch, don't feel like you need to spend a bunch of money you don't have on conferences or retreats, just write. Get it done, and see what you think. Revise. Read. Then write some more. That's what I think. The rest is separate and has nothing to do with the actual writing. Just write--that's how you'll get better. That's how you'll find your voice. Write.

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Wow, right?! I love how thoughtful and interesting Jennifer's answers are, and I can't help feeling pumped up over her advice!

Jen, thank you for allowing me to interview you for my blog. It's an honor. xo

Sunday, November 8, 2015


starring: Pepper and Thistle as themselves

Pepper: I dare say, brother, I would pay my weight in Eukanuba to learn where on Earth summer has gone.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Loren Long and LITTLE TREE

Philomel Books
Pub date: October 27, 2015

Loren Long visited Eagle Harbor Book Company on Halloween for a cozy reading on a blustery day. I loved meeting him!

He read LITTLE TREE, his beautiful new picture book,

and he drew an incredible picture while he was smack in front of us. Seriously, people, the picture was totally something I'd love to frame and hang in my house--and he drew it with his sketch pad upside down in his lap so the kids could see the drawing. I was super impressed!

The children and adults adored him, and his story touched everyone. We're talking teary eyes in the audience. It was a perfect event!

I woke up this morning thinking about how lovely the book is. I bought a book as a gift yesterday, but I'm planning to go back and buy a copy of LITTLE TREE for myself.

What's one of your favorite picture books? Are you as blown away as I am when you see illustrators whip up art right before your eyes?

Friday, October 30, 2015

THE FAIRY SWARM book party

I had a great time Tuesday night at Eagle Harbor Book Company celebrating THE FAIRY SWARM by Suzanne Selfors.

written by Suzanne Selfors and illustrated by Dan Santat

THE FAIRY SWARM is the final book in The Imaginary Veterinary series. I love that series--love--so I was tickled to dress up as a sugar fairy for the party!

left to right: Suzanne Selfors, George Shannon as Mr. Tabby, me, Lynn Brunelle as Dr. Woo, Walker Ranson as a sugar fairy, and Bob Ranson as Sasquatch

It was such a fun event! If you're unfamiliar with the The Imaginary Veterinary series, check out this page on Suzanne's website. There are fabulous book trailers, an activity kit, reviews, and more.

What's your favorite book series? Tell me, tell me, tell me!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

October busy-ness

October seems to always be an extra busy, hoppin' month. Here's what's been going on in a nutshell. Or an eggshell, since our seven chickens are all laying now. That's big news because this is the first time our family has had chickens, and it was only last spring that they looked like this:

They grow so fast. *sigh* But since this isn't a poultry blog, let's move on!

It was exciting to see friends make the list of finalists for the Washington State Book Awards.

A group of us, new friends and old, got together to celebrate the finalists before the winners were announced at the Central Library in Seattle.

Left to right: critique partners Margaret Nevinski and Jennifer K. Mann, finalist George Shannon, finalist Jennifer Longo, me, Suzanne Selfors (a 2014 winner), and finalist Maureen McQuerry

Jennifer Mann won the picture book category for TWO SPECKLED EGGS. Woo-hoo! Here she is accepting her award and then reading her book.

Congratulations to the finalists and winners! Of course, you're ALL winners! What a huge accomplishment!

Last week, SCBWI-Western Washington kicked off the 2015-2016 season of monthly programming with our first meeting. Agent Barry Goldblatt was our featured speaker. I'd heard him speak before (as well as his fabulous client and wife, Libba Bray), but it's always a great opportunity to hear the latest and learn more. It's especially convenient when you don't have to fly to LA or New York to do so.

Today I met with my critique partner Faith Pray. Such a fun morning!

I feel so fortunate to have three incredible critique partners. Each of them brings piles of talent, knowledge, encouragement, and inspiration to the table, and each shines and sheds her own unique light. I learn so much from all three individuals. I hope to give as much as I receive! I'll meet with Margaret and Jen this coming week. 

Other than that, October has been a nice yet busy combination of writing, work, family, friends, dogs,

and chickens. (Yes, back to the chickens!)

Oh! And reading! I just read THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage.

What a voice! I devoured it. It's such a great book!

How about you? How has your month been? Have you read anything wonderful lately?

Thursday, August 13, 2015


I realize it's been a while since I've blogged about craft or my own writing. Imagine that! Kind of silly since this is, after all, a writing blog! So...

Today I'm working on outlining. I'm not outlining a new story, but I'm working on reoutlining the end of a draft. (Is "reoutlining" even a word? It should be!)

How I work:
I outline a whole novel, breaking it down from start to finish. I love having a road map to follow, or a skeleton to fill in and make solid. Still, my outline is fluid. I often tend to come up with more interesting pieces as I write or I find flaws in some of my earlier ideas. Since this can never be predicted, the roads on my map change, the bones of my skeleton alter.

Once I've outlined, I start writing. At the beginning of a new chapter or sometimes before particular scenes, I do a basic outline again, writing down what I'm hoping to accomplish. If bits of dialogue or any other details hit me or float across my brain while outlining, I make note of them before I can forget them. 

This process requires me to change my bigger map from time to time. Right now is one of those times. I know where I'm headed and I know many of the things that have to happen between now and the end of the book, but I have to get them in the ideal order, eliminate paths that no longer feel right, and fill in spots. Since I can always cut things later, I tend to over-write in earlier drafts--or in new sections of older drafts. I'm not letting myself go back and edit yet (at least, not much) because I want to get to the end of this draft. Instead, I make notes to myself for the next draft. Suggestion: keep notes in the same place so they're together and easy to locate.

Right now I'm finding note cards to be helpful. I can move them and play with the order of my scenes, add cards, and remove cards. Some cards are filled, front and back, and some are just one single line. I trim (literally--with scissors) the ones that aren't full; I can always add more cards to fill in blanks and--I don't know--maybe being able to physically handle my pieces and use scissors and a pencil gives me some sort of benefit. I'm one of those people who likes to feel fabrics and paper and books when I'm shopping. Maybe I'm feeling my way through my novel's ending!

I bought Scrivener last year, but I never committed to learning it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Scrivener is a really cool software application designed for writers, and it has all sorts of features, including a virtual corkboad with virtual note cards to help with outlining. I plan to learn it better eventually, but, as I said, I'm not yet there. I suppose my method is like Scrivener for Cavemen and Cavewomen. Tee-hee!

I discovered I can sometimes see my story clearer or fresher if I change the way I'm outlining it. For example:
*switching from a computer outline to one in a spiral notebook
*breaking my story into three acts and dangling scenes from a line
*switching from a detailed outline on pages to scenes on note cards or scenes labeled on a blank, printed-out calendar

I don't know how many of you are "plotters" (those who plot in advance) or "pantsers" (those who write without a lot of plotting ahead of time--by the seat of their pants). I'm definitely a plotter--though I leave room for and honor the magic that comes when I least expect it, the stuff I could never have thought of without writing out my story.

Of course, there isn't a correct or an incorrect method. This is just how I do things.

How about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you're a plotter, please share something about the way you plot your novels! If you're a pantser, please tell me about that! I'd love to hear!